Is Markham the next London, Paris or Copenhagen?

An interview with Yvonne Yeung, Urban Designer, Town of Markham.

How did you get involved in urban design?

I studied landscape architecture at University of Toronto. In the design studio there were times where we studied abroad in Europe. We visited cities all over the place, like Paris and Berlin, and looked at how design evolves over a period of time. This stretched our design thinking to include a larger context, such as build form and streetscape.


Do you have a city in mind that you want to model Markham to be?

Personally, I like the Scandinavian model of cities. Copenhagen is one good example. I just visited around a year ago and they are very innovative in terms of promoting alternative modes of transportation. For example, bike lane design is really integral to the city. They look at how to seek a right balance between intensification and sustainability; they have a lot of innovative technology from the way they design buildings (for energy efficiency) to the way parking lots are designed (to reduce heat island effects). The whole city is very committed and it’s very encouraging.


What are some of the challenges in Markham’s urban design?

Transportation is one thing that needs discussion at the moment. We’re also committed to planting trees throughout Upper Unionville and Markham. From a sustainability perspective, we need to see if there is enough soil volume for each tree so it’s a continuous planting strip. We [also] want to make sure there’s enough parking for commercial spaces. In terms of the build form for townhouses, we want to make sure that driveways will not cut through sidewalks.


You’ve worked all over the world. What’s your favourite city?

Different cities have different challenges. There are certain cities that look to sustainability for survival, not just as a choice. Especially cities in Asia, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. There is a chance to try new technologies, which is encouraging, and the scale of the projects is much larger. England is very interesting as well. London – a world-class city – already has transportation in place but at the same time they are trying to balance heritage (such as St. Paul’s Cathedral) and protecting the skyline.


What’s in demand in urban design right now?

Mixed-use developments are being designed right now. In the future when you look at a tower – say, an office tower – it won’t be a stand-alone tower anymore because land is very valuable. In some areas of Japan, the tower is viewed as a city: there is residential space at the top, the middle is offices, and the bottom accommodates retail.


Is Markham the city of the future? Is it a model Toronto will look up to?

I think yes, for sure. From a sustainability perspective we are very committed. You can see the overall employment and economic projection for the future on our website. From those perspectives, we are very innovative and we try to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the future.